While my fellow college seniors are frantically preparing portfolios and working on research presentations, I’m successfully ignoring everything school-related and, instead, frantically learning to carry out the tasks 826Chicago’s new communications coordinator might be doing.
Yes! It’s true! Maybe you’ve heard—826CHI, the location of my internship (and subject of much gushing on my part) has hired me as an actual staff member.
It feels surreal that I’ve gotten to bypass most of the freaking-out-about-post-grad-jobs phase and launch right into a “big girl job.”
It’s incredibly encouraging and affirming to be recognized in this way, too; to know that the other staff members believed in me enough to bring me on board mid-internship. In my new position, I have the opportunity to even further immerse myself in the amazing work this educational nonprofit is doing in the Chicago community.
I have already jumped into my new life of press releases, monthly newsletters, social media marketing, strategic communication planning and fundraising. I’m also trying to cram HTML and InDesign tutorials into what is now a very full life.
Despite the steep learning curve and scheduling difficulties I face because I’m still in school, I love what I’m doing. 826CHI is where my passion meets my skills—I know that it’s good that I’m here.
So far, though, the working world has been a day-and-night difference from my previous mental understanding of it.
Here’s what I thought it would be like:
After a pleasant commute, I calmly enter the building and say hello to my coworkers before settling down at my desk and calmly opening my laptop. I then begin a series of tasks, which I complete with diligence and impeccable calmness. My day finishes promptly at my scheduled end time, when I calmly pack up my things, bid my coworkers goodnight, and calmly stroll out the door.
Regarding the calmness: there is very little of it. A typical day actually looks much more like this:
After a hectic bike ride on poorly kept streets, which will inevitably leave my feet sweaty/freezing for the duration of the day, I stumble into the building and say hello to my coworkers before wiping crumbs off my desk and ripping open my laptop. I attempt to respond to an inbox full of e-mails, but they seem to quadruple as I type my first reply (which is just unfair). I try to complete about 75 different tasks throughout the day but find they are all way more complicated than I thought. I also don’t know how to do half of them. Nearly 30 minutes past my scheduled end-time, I realize maybe I should wrap things up. I try not to freak out about how much I didn’t get done as I stuff my belongings into my bag. I turn off all the lights on my way out and lock the building door behind me.
I’m sure things will calm down once I get a hang of the job’s rhythm and catch my stride with its new responsibilities.
But speaking of the learning curve, here’s what I’ve already figured out:
1. Receiving e-mails is not at all thrilling.
I used to leave my e-mail open all day long, waiting for a little “(1)” to appear in my inbox so I could pounce on it and devour a message from the outside world. It signaled a glorious reprieve from my monotonous college life and did double-duty as a semi-productive form of procrastination. Is the message from a professor? My mom? My aunt? Who cares! Mail, mail, mail!
Oh, how things change. Right now, there might be a “(14)” next to my inbox. Maybe even a “(24).” I couldn’t tell you—I’m purposefully avoiding it while I write this column, dreading what I’ll find when I reopen G-mail.
2. It’s OK to bookmark weird things.
I’ve got the basics covered—Facebook, Gmail, Pandora, Grooveshark, Chase. Since beginning this job, I’ve added a few new ones. First, there’s a folder called “Bloggy Blogs.” It’s a collection of—you guessed it—blogs I follow. Since graphic design is part of my job and I know very little about it, I’ve been scouring the Internet (OK, Pinterest) for tutorials and examples. I’m also still following Bobby Woelk’s advice: “If you want to be a good writer, read good writing.” Now that I think about it, I guess those are fairly normal things to keep handy.
In the realm of “bookmarking weird things,” you should know that I have added “thesaurus.com” to my toolbar because writing witty copy from my immediate vocabulary alone is exhausting. So is typing “thesaurus.com” into the search bar 27 times every hour.
3. Having a million Internet tabs up at once is really overwhelming, but I probably need to get over it.
Also, you know those little icons along the bottom or side of a Mac desktop that show which applications are running? There are days that I have so many open, the icons are so tiny I can hardly make out what they are. If that seems overwhelming for me, just imagine how my poor lil’ computer must feel….
On a more serious note:
4. Learning to leave work at work is hard.
But it’s important. Especially in the nonprofit world, there will probably never be a day that it’s time to leave and I think, “Gee, there is literally nothing else I could possibly do to benefit this organization right now. I guess it’s time to head home and wind down.”
And yet, my workplace success will hinge on growing my ability to leave a day’s work behind and enjoy life outside my job. It’s an important balancing act: I need to be committed and put in extra time when necessary, but I need to set up some boundaries to stay sane. I care so much about 826 and I want everything I do to be perfect, but I need to cut myself some slack.
There will be days that I don’t finish everything I start, but I need to let that be OK.
Because I’ll be back tomorrow, ready to schedule meetings with the board, collaborate with my amazing coworkers and spend hours upon hours looking up synonyms.